Google launches message service

Google Inc., the most-used Web search engine, may add a free service as early as this week that lets people send instant messages and make telephone calls through their computers.

The service will let users connect calls on their computers and talk with a microphone and speakers or a headset, six analysts including Piper Jaffray's Safa Rashtchy in Menlo Park, Calif., said Tuesday, citing speculation among industry contacts. The service eventually may be expanded to connect calls from computers to landlines, they were quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

Adding Internet calling would help Google put pressure on Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., which offer similar services, as well as Skype Technologies SA and Comcast Corp. The number of US users of Web-based phone service is expected to jump almost ninefold by 2009, letting Mountain View, Calif.-based Google bolster revenue by increasing the time users spend on the site.

"Google is looking to grab control of the PC desktop," said Teney Takahashi, an analyst at market researcher Radicati Group Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif.

The service, which also includes a feature to send written instant messages, will probably be free and may come out this week, Rashtchy said. Other analysts including IDC's William Stofega expect the product to debut within the next month. Google spokesman Nathan Tyler didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Users of those services are unlikely to switch unless the friends and colleagues on their "buddy lists" do the same. The top instant messaging services still do not communicate with each other, though promises of such "interoperability" have been made for years, Xinhua reports.

One source was quoted by the Times as saying that Google Talk would be announced Wednesday, but another source wasn't aware of a date for the release.

Google shares rose $5.57 to close at $279.58 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. They have gained 45 percent this year.

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